Mark Stone tests a rifle that is a notable combination of European craftsmanship: an Italian rifle with a distinctly German signature. But can it win UK shooters over?
I can virtually guarantee that my views on Fabarm’s 9.3×74 Asper over-under Express rifle will draw two distinct reactions. For the traditional UK rifle shooter who’s of the opinion that it’s a turn-bolt or nothing, the double rifle is a complete anathema. However, I cannot think of a better rifle to review for those of a more open mind who are willing to learn and understand how their European counterparts go about their driven hunting. The Fabarm Asper demonstrates perfectly how this style of rifle is at home shooting driven hoofed game in a foreign forest, embodying the transition between rifle and shotgun.
Delivered in what Fabarm calls its Dual reinforced and sectioned aluminium case, the self-contained Asper outfit is as simple as it is functional. From the buyer’s point of view, apart from the choice of calibre – which stretches from .30-06 Springfield to 9.3x74R – the only other option is whether you go for an oil-finished stock and forend or move up a grade to the heavily engraved and chequered Asper Prestige. However, while oil and artistry is all well and good, aesthetics count for nothing when the wild boar are running and branches get in the way.
It’s for this reason that the Triwood model exists – the sectional stippled panels of chequering offer excellent grip with or without gloves, even when the rifle is soaking from rain. Though it’s nothing more than an encapsulating transfer system that applies a deep, lustrous walnut effect to basic timber, the end result will fool anyone until you point it out, while the pattern system ensures you’ll never see an identical rifle. Similarly, the coating shrugs off adverse weather, knocks, bumps and potential dents as if they don’t exist. In other words, it’s the sensible choice for the serious shooter who values performance over visuals.
The facets Triwood doesn’t replace are the Asper’s excellent dimensions and stock angles, the gentle hog’s back semi-pistol grip stock complete with small cheekpiece and soft rubber recoil pad. In conjunction with the tulip-style forend, this promotes fast handling, rapid and precise mounting and comfortable shooting. The large top lever and safety catch are easy to find and operate.
While the stylised satin, grey-finished forged steel receiver is clearly Fabarm, complete with the signature art deco influences and inertia-driven action, the barrels are unmistakably German in origin – it even states that they’re manufactured in Suhl. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who manufactured the barrels – it’s just that Fabarm would prefer no names to be named. But take it from me: these micron-finished 55cm tubes are as good as it gets, since I’ve seen them being made and know the company in question extremely well.
Where the over-under tubes tend to differ is that, unlike other systems that allow the hunter to vary the angle between the two tubes, a fixed wedge means that they’re fixed at a 50-metre convergence point. And even though dovetails are standard, along with an optional quick-detach mount that adds a further £366 to the bill, the high-visibility open sights more than hint that a scope shouldn’t enter the Asper’s hunting equation.
While a few days on the real thing would have been preferred, a friend’s running boar target plus 20 rounds of Lapua 9.3×74 Mega was more than sufficient for testing. The initial 30-yard shots highlighted that the sights needed minor adjustment – even though they were placing within a 3in circle, the hits were pulling to the right. Once corrected, the Asper never failed to deliver each shot exactly where it was required.
The Asper weighs 7lb 4oz with a balance point half an inch to the rear of the hinges, and the trigger releases at a secure 5lb 9oz. The stock’s dimensions meant the Asper was perfectly aligned each and every time. The red dot of the foresight unfailingly squared with the rear sight’s three yellow dots, while the both-eyes-open shotgun style emphasised just why this style of rifle is perfectly suited to close-quarters, reactive shooting.
If you’ve never used a double rifle before, then the Asper is the perfect introduction. Like all doubles, nothing gets a second shot off as fast – the only action required of the shooter is to release the trigger after the first discharge. Similarly, with strong, perfectly timed ejectors that throw the empty cases high and wide, you can get reloading down to just a few seconds – all it takes is a bit of practice holding the next two rounds wedged between your third and fourth fingers. The Asper as quick and efficient as you could wish – the rifle’s reaction time is entirely down to you.
With the Asper packed away in its matching flight case, the hunter and rifle are ready for anything at a moment’s notice, embodying the ‘have gun, will travel’ ethos. From the moment you first assemble and swing the Asper, it exudes an air of usability. It‘s not all about looks – this is a double rifle with sufficient purpose to make you want to go out and hunt with it.
Admittedly, at £2,751 Fabarm’s Asper Express isn’t the cheapest double rifle currently available on the UK market. But I defy you to find one as well built and balanced, or with the looks, quality and efficiency that come as standard Asper fittings at this sort of price.